Old Man’s War

I wrote a song called “Old Man’s War,” and George has been helping me shoot a video for it. I’ve had to go to a bit a dark place to accurately emit the message of the song and I’ll be honest…I’m having a bit of a hard time crawling back out to the light. I’ve been trying to remain hopeful and positive in this crazy national climate we have, but I just watched a video about Standing Rock, which is breaking my heart, so I’m sad and mad this morning.

The chorus of my song is this:

“They’re sending all the beautiful boys to fight an old man’s war.                                                         Give a rebel yell for the glorious cause, but what are they fighting for?                                         My love would say he’s fighting for me, and maybe that’s true                                                               But I’d rather have him next to me than fighting other boys in blue.”

That chorus is about the Civil War, and I was thinking about Confederate soldiers when I wrote it, but it can apply to modern events too. For example, what are the police and security who are shooting rubber bullets at seemingly unarmed protesters at Standing Rock fighting for? I’ve been thinking about this. These people go home to their families at night. I’m sure they love their children. I’m sure they want the world to be a good place for their children. I think they have to believe that they are doing their jobs and upholding the law, or they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing. I don’t believe that every officer out there is a sadist who enjoys hurting people who are already suffering. There might be some who actually hate that they are there but feel like they don’t have a choice. But still, they ARE there. Maybe they are there because they need a job to put food on the table for those children they love. Police officers don’t usually make the big bucks. I don’t know what compels a person to do what they are doing and I don’t know what they are fighting for. It’s unfathomable to me, but I’m sure any of those police would give you a reason for why they have accepted their roles at Standing Rock.  But the thing is…do you think those police officers, who are harming these protestors, who are out in the elements themselves, are going to benefit from this pipeline? Not in the way that the investors of the pipeline will benefit. I am grateful for police officers. I support them and I’m thankful that they help keep us safe. I want police to be safe and happy, just like I want anybody to be safe and happy. However, I think the police and security at Standing Rock are pawns for people who don’t really care about them. If the protesters were actually violent, the lives of the police are on the line, not the lives of the investors. Why are the police willing to risk their lives to benefit wealthy oil investors? They are fighting an old man’s war.

I have asked myself a question many times leading up to this residency, except the question has been about confederate soldiers instead of Standing Rock security. Why were Confederate soldiers willing to fight? What were they really fighting for, or at least, what did they think they were fighting for?

Many people would vehemently defend that the Civil War was over states’ rights. I guess anybody could get behind fighting for states’ rights if they felt strongly about it. But what was the right in question that lead to southern secession? Slavery. Southern states wanted slavery to expand into new states and territories. Lincoln, the newly elected president did not. Just some dates for you…Lincoln was elected in November of 1860 and South Carolina seceeded in December of 1860, before he had even been inaugurated. Shots were fired on Fort Sumpter a month after Lincoln’s inauguration. Lincoln initiated the Union response to the war because of the secession of southern states. Those southern states seceeded to protect their right to own slaves. I can’t remember where I read this, but it sums it up perfectly…”secession was the powder keg of the Civil War, but slavery was the fuse.”

Did you know, at least according to “The American Civil War” by John Keegan, that of the South’s population of 5 million white people, only 48,00 were planters who owned more than 20 slaves? That’s less than one percent. Only 3,000 whites owned more than 100 slaves. But here is the kicker…did you know a law was passed during the war where a man who owned 20 or more slaves was exempt from fighting? 40 percent of the first Confederate congress owned more that 20 slaves. The wealthiest men of the south were legally allowed to sit out the fighting while the poor of the south were cannon fodder, and the wealthy were also the ones who made the law.

This is why I wrote the line, “They’re sending all the beautiful boys to fight an old man’s war.”

I have asked myself time and again…why were these poor people, most of whom did not even own slaves, willing to put their lives on the line to fight a war that was almost purely to the benefit of the wealthy slave owners? Maybe the answer to this question would answer why people are willing to mace unarmed, peaceful protesters.

I don’t actually know the answer but one guess is this. I think is the number one reason why southern soldiers fought is that after the Confederate Conscription Act of 1862, all white males between 18-35 were automatically enlisted. That age range extended from 17-50 in 1864. If a person is told they legally have to do something, most do it. Plus, units were usually formed based on geographic areas. So people were probably in units with their friends and neighbors. That adds another level of obligation. I’ve thought about the fact that I have friends who I would defend and fight with and for, basically no matter what the cause was. I have friends who I’d probably forsake my ideas of right and wrong to protect. If I was conscripted with my sister, and she was marching next to me, I really wouldn’t think about why I was fighting. I’d just be trying to shoot anyone who was shooting at her. I’m sure there were Confederate soldiers who knew that slavery was morally reprehensible, but they were willing to stand with their brothers anyway. The fact that we would protect our loved ones at any cost, and at the expense of others, forsaking right and wrong, allows us to be pawns.

I just keep thinking…how many times is history going to repeat itself before we learn something? How many times are we going to let people steer the ship who only have their own interests in mind? How many have to die? I worry that it’s just a matter of time before Standing Rock escalates to real bullets instead of rubber ones.  I’ve asked myself if there have been times where I have, knowingly or unknowingly, been a pawn in a scenario that hurts most people and benefits few. I hope not, but it’s hard to know when the facts are always so muddled that it feels impossible to sort them out. Am I a pawn because I’m just silently watching Standing Rock unfold? It feels like the bulldozers are coming for all of us.

I keep thinking about the young men who died in the Civil War. 600,000. And I’m convinced that part of the problems we face today, over 150 years later, are products of wounds we gave ourselves then that we did not successfully heal from. Reconstruction should have been a balm, but it was a disaster that further damaged things and was another example of the wealthy exploiting the poor. We did something to our national subconscious that we have still not recovered from.

A few days ago, George and I were filming a scene for the song on Confederate Avenue, standing where southerners stood, looking up and out to the copse of trees, as they prepared to march to their deaths during Pickett’s charge. 6,000. That’s how many died on that field as a product of the charge. I stood next to a witness tree, a tree that was there when that slaughter unfolded, and I cried. I cried for the southern boys who made that charge, likely knowing they wouldn’t survive it, and I cried for northern boys who had to shoot at them. And maybe I cried some because I feel like it could easily happen again because we just won’t learn.

I really do think most people are decent. There are truly bad apples, but most have good qualities and something to offer. And I don’t exactly know what my point on this blog is, except maybe that we all need to examine who is steering the boat before we agree to row, or bail water, or even board. We need to know what we are fighting for. There have been plenty of times where, if the average decent person had just decided not to be a party, the power of those who would only serve themselves would be totally drained. I don’t want to be the hands, mouth, or feet to a power that would hurt other people. I don’t want to contribute to the manpower of destruction. In whatever way I can, I stand with Standing Rock. I also stand with anyone whose well-being is threatened by those who would take away their civil rights. I usually stay quiet on issues because I don’t like to alienate people, but staying quiet is how I contribute to the problem. And if someone feels alienated by what I have to say, I hope they would be willing to have a conversation with me about it. I want to remain hopeful, and I want to inject hope into the world. This was just on my mind today.

 

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